If you ask Google about the most popular social media platforms in Russia you will get bombarded with information that is oftentimes either conflicting or out of date. Even I was confused when Facebook showed up as the most used one since neither I nor my friends have it on our phones. In 2019, UBS Evidence Lab conducted a survey (link in Russian) and asked Russian people about their social media preferences. VK, WhatsApp, YouTube, Twitter, Telegram, Viber, Instagram, Facebook, and OK.ru were named as the most popular ones. Some are world-known and some you’ve probably never heard of.

What are VK, Telegram, and OK.ru? What features do they have? What can you use them for?

VK (or Vkontakte meaning “In contact”)

If you live in Russia, you have definitely come across VK once, twice, or a million times – it is the largest Russian social network. Facebook's evil twin, a huge website where pirates and Russian hackers allegedly live, has a complicated political history – that's what you've probably heard about it in the news. But the devil is not so black as he is painted, it is just an ordinary website and a mobile app with many interesting features and advantages: 

  • All your Russian (and not only) friends are here;
  • It has a wide range of mini-apps you can use for ordering food or a taxi, tracking your habits, shopping, etc.;
  • You can transfer money, watch clips, and send different files (photos, videos, audio files, maps, documents);
  • VK hosts various events like a 24-hour Hackathon, Start Fellows (a grant support program for tech projects), VK Cup (a programming championship), VK Music Awards, and VK Fest (a two-day open-air music and entertainment festival).

By the way, our VK page (both in Russian and English) is one of the best ways to keep up to date. Be sure to take a moment and scroll through our latest news and updates. On VK, you can also find pages of ITMO's student clubs. If you’re into sports, then Kronbars sports club is just the right choice for you. Interested in media and want to learn more? Go to the Megabyte Media page. We also have ITMO.GREEN club for those who care about the planet and want to make a difference, and much more (links in Russian).

OK.ru (or Odnoklassniki meaning “Classmates”)

Much like VK, it allows users to create a profile, search for friends, and share status updates and images. You can also use the site to make voice and video calls, send messages, and give virtual gifts. But while VK is most popular among young people, OK is more favored by older Russians. So, in other words, OK is for Boomers, and if your friends’ babushkas asked you to send them photos or you want to understand Russian memes better, it’s definitely the place (joking!).

  • Here you can find your friends’ parents, grandparents, and maybe (just maybe) your classmates;
  • You can see who visited your page or turn on an invisible mode, so no one can see you;
  • You can rate your friends’ photos from 1 to 5+, like them, send private likes (only visible to your friends) or your reactions (sad, wow!, nice, or haha);
  • Now, you can understand some Russian jokes and memes even better.

Telegram (find it on App Store and Google Play)

And the most scandalous of all, Telegram! (Congrats, you can officially use it in Russia from June 18, 2020). A few years ago, it was banned due to its security policy and the unwillingness to compromise its principles in order to obey Russia’s laws. But even despite that, a lot of people use it religiously. It has a few tricks and tweaks up its sleeves: it’s speedy, secure, simple, and very nifty. 

You can use it for fun (read the news, follow famous people’s channels, send memes to your friends) or school (there are many useful bots and channels for studying). It’s a great tool to keep in touch with your classmates (e.g. by means of a group chat), family and friends.

Many astonishing features set Telegram apart from other messaging services:

  • First and foremost, Telegram is a cloud-based app, so if you buy a new phone, you won’t have any problems with your messages magically disappearing like it tends to happen with other messengers (my personal attack on WhatsApp). You can also use multiple accounts (another personal attack on WhatsApp);
  • It lets you completely customize your messenger (cats as background and pink layout, you got it!);
  • There are some cool things like telescopes (video messages), bots, channels, secret chats with self-destruct messages, silent messages, and schedules, etc. 

Let's look at some great Telegram channels you should check out: our Telegram channel and international admission bot (of course), St. Petersburg news and a guide to free events and places (both in Russian), a learning languages channel (Russian) and bot (English), IT news, sciencedifferent facts (links in Russian), computer science and programmingTED Talks, etc. You will definitely find something just for you by doing a quick search in Telegram/in the app.

With all these amazing tricks in the bag, why not check out these social networks today? You will not only understand Russians better but also potentially make your life in Russia easier by downloading one of the apps above.